1. The Spiral Curriculum
This is a favourite, particularly in mathematics, and comes from a very sensible starting point. I prefer the idea of building a wall or a house. It makes sense that you need to secure one layer of bricks around the whole building before trying to build too high. The problem with the spiral idea is that it’s led to the nonsense of whistle-stop tours of subjects, and no-one worrying about securing knowledge because “we’ll come back to it next term”. The spiral is too tight and doesn’t actually achieve any height… just lots of circling.
The spiral has become a slinky. And a tangled one at that.
2. Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. (supposedly by WB Yeats, but no source I can trace)
I can see what he was getting at here, but as is so often the case, it’s too easy to misconstrue.
However, some good advice about starting a fire is to get a good collection of kindling and firewood in place, which will need to be gathered, organised and delivered to the fireplace. A pail would be a good container to collect this stuff in. Frankly, it’s a pretty good place to light a fire, once full, too.
3. Teaching a fish to climb a tree, etc. (again, supposedly by Einstein, but never with any actual source)
Another one that seems fine to start with. Except for a few things: some fish can climb trees; if tree-climbing were a useful skill in the world of fish, you can damn sure more would evolve to; we’re not fish. That last one is particularly important.
Actually, if what this analogy is suggesting that only some students can achieve whatever the metaphorical tree-climbing represents, then surely the matter at hand is not whether more students can achieve it, but whether it’s valuable to. If it is, then as teachers shouldn’t we be providing every possible tree-climbing class going?
4. You understand 90% of what you do, but only 10% of what you read (and similar made-up figures).
I have never changed tides, developed a flying machine, fought in the Battle of the Somme, carved out an oxbow lake, cooked a Baked Alaska, voted in the House of Commons, spread Bubonic plague across a quarter of the globe…
Need I go on?
5. Teachers should be a “Guide on the Side” rather than the “Sage on the Stage”.
I’m not sure what the intended implication of this is, although it is clearly connected to number 4. I try to imagine it in the context of that other widely-understood teaching role: the driving instructor.
Tutee: I don’t really know how to get it to go forward…
Instructor: Well, what do you think you could try next?
Tutee: Do these pedals do something?
Instructor: Perhaps you could do an experiment to find out?
Tutee (after much exploration): well… one makes a lot of noise. The other two don’t seem to do anything…
Instructor: Well, your target now is to try to include a greater number of factors in your testing.
There’s a reason why “coaches” take experts and develop them, but novices are “taught”. I suspect that an instructor who insisted on acting as a Guide on the side, might soon be out of work.
I feel as though there are probably many more of these. Comments with other examples welcomed.